Skip to main content

Syria a distraction from real U.S. challenges

By Newt Gingrich, CNN Contributor
September 5, 2013 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: Obama right to seek Congress OK on Syria, but it's not his real problem
  • He says Washington avoiding three real strategic challenges. The first: Iran and nukes
  • Second: Radical Islam grows unabated and is a bigger threat than Syria, he says
  • Third: Military cuts threaten U.S. security, Gingrich says

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is the new co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which makes its debut on Monday, September 9.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama did the right thing in going to Congress for a debate and a vote on a proposed national security action.

He could have followed precedent set by presidents of both parties and launched missiles under his powers as commander in chief. In an America tired by 12 years of continuous warfare (the longest in our history), however, it was wise to engage the American people through their elected representatives in the Congress.

Unfortunately the president picked the wrong topic on which to have a national debate. Launching a few missiles at Syria is a tactical action that will not change history. Obama has already pledged that he is seeking a limited engagement and is not trying to replace the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad.

Gingrich: Stay out of Syria's civil war

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is already redrafting the president's proposed language to make the resolution even more restrictive and even more tactical and of even less meaning.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

The most powerful nation in the world does not need a three- or four-week debate about a limited, symbolic, tactical use of power.

What we do need are three debates about very large strategic challenges.

Each of these challenges is massively bigger and vastly more important to our survival than the symbolic Syrian attack:

Opinion: A U.S. strike would be self-wounding

Engel: Syrians crossed the red line
Understanding Syria's Assad family
Will Congress vote for action in Syria?

First, we need a national debate about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. We did nothing decisive for seven years under President George W. Bush even after he described Iran as part of the axis of evil (along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the North Korean dictatorship). In the first five years of Obama's administration, we have continued to do nothing decisive. Meanwhile, day by day the Iranian dictatorship works at acquiring nuclear weapons. This is a vastly greater threat than al-Assad's Syria.

Four questions for backers of Syria mission

Second, the threat of radical Islamism continues to spread. From Benghazi in Libya to the opposition to al-Assad in Syria to the unrest in Egypt, there is overwhelming evidence the death of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden did nothing to defeat radical Islamists. There are more of them today than ever and more coming from Western Europe and America to join the fight in Syria.

When Chechen Muslim terrorists set off a bomb in Boston, there is clear evidence that the war against radical Islamists is going to be bigger and harder than anything for which we have prepared. This is a vastly more important topic then a brief missile assault on al-Assad.

Bergen: Obama on war: A realist and risk taker

Third, the budgetary drawdowns in the American military are rapidly creating a generation of vulnerabilities unlike anything we have seen since Pearl Harbor in 1941. For 72 years, we have lived in a world of massive American power. The decline of the Navy, the gradual obsolescence of the Air Force, the shrinking of the Army and Marine Corps, and the emergence of new technologies are all combining to create a national security challenge of historic proportions.

Reforming the Pentagon procurement system and adequately sizing and funding American defense forces is a debate topic vastly more important to our survival and safety than a mere skirmish in the Mediterranean against Syria.

Both parties in Washington are unprepared for the three debates that matter. Political leaders can now immerse themselves in a debate about a minor action with minimal risk and feel useful.

Sometimes it feels as though the national leadership seeks trivia to stay busy so it doesn't have to face the really big issues.

Opinion: The only road to peace in Syria

Congress should vote no on a meaningless public relations use of military force against al-Assad and then focus on the three national security debates that really matter.

But that would mean facing up to the deeper realities threatening us. And that might be truly frightening.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Newt Gingrich.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT